When pigs fly!

I went to my first Roger Waters concert last night with my friend Larry (who has seen every show in town, no matter how rare, unavailable, and hard to find the music is). The show was spectacular! I have never been to a Pink Floyd concert either, but I’ve heard about what incredible shows they are for years. As a founding member and the main songwriter of Pink Floyd, the show Waters produced last night exceeded all my expectations. The band was well rehearsed and, other than missing David Gilmour’s distinctive vocals, the music sounded as good as the studio work.

The show was in a beautiful outdoor amphitheater set against the side of a hill in south Orange County—you can’t ask for a better venue on a mild spring night under the stars. The wheelchair seating is excellent, at the back of the Orchestra, so it’s close enough to the stage for a good view without binoculars, and raised high enough so that those of us who cannot stand from our wheelchairs (which also applies to Larry, who happens to be the one who convinced the venue’s management to make the seating unobstructed) can still see when the rest of the crowd stands. I was in section 1, six seats from the inside aisle. The amphitheater seats about 16,000, and was chock full of enthusiastic Pink Floyd fans last night. It has a very large stage, a couple of jumbotrons, and an excellent sound system.

I’ve been a Pink Floyd fan for decades, so I was looking forward with great anticipation to see Roger Waters. I’m not the type of person who takes notes at a concert, I just sit back and enjoy, so I can’t reel off the song list, the opener and the encore. However, I can say that Waters opened with a set about an hour long of all the classic Pink Floyd songs I was hoping to hear and some more esoteric material that I didn’t know by heart but enjoyed all the same, along with some of Waters’ solo music—a new one called Leaving Beirut being the most memorable for me.

Then after a fifteen minute intermission, Waters played Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety. They did a great job of synching all of the recorded sound effects that are so inherently inextricable to the piece with the band’s live performance. Being the first CD I ever bought about a quarter of a century ago, Dark Side of the Moon is probably still my favorite album, so it was wonderful to experience it performed live end-to-end in order. Besides, as good as some of the songs are individually, Dark Side of the Moon is really designed to be a cohesive piece, so I was very pleased that Waters performed it that way. Eclipse was followed by a bow and a three or four song encore.

As great as the music was last night, it was not the stand-out part of the concert experience. I’ve had countless memorable concert experiences over almost thirty years of concert-going. The music is usually what makes a concert great. However, all of the production effects outside of the music were what made this show special for me. As spectacular as they were, they did not distract from the music; they enhanced it.

The stage was backed by an immense high-definition television screen. The concert opened with a close-up shot of an old radio on the screen. Periodically, a hand would reach into the shot, pick up a cigarette, and tune the radio. This was a recurring element in the show, with the hand “tuning in” the first couple of the songs the band played, then later clips pulling back and showing more of what was going on with the man in the room who was tuning the radio. However, there was plenty of other video material played on the screen over the course of the concert, including some of the footage from The Wall. The high-definition resolution made the video component very special.

The video wasn’t the extent of the effects. The sound reinforcement in the amphitheater was Surround Sound especially for this show, and Waters made extensive use of it with all the sound effects that are Pink Floyd’s trademark. The show had impressive on-stage pyrotechnics, a particular set of them which were so bright that they left green blind-spots in my eyes for a few minutes. The producers even deployed an innovative contraption which projected a three-dimensional laser light show.

However, the most surprising production effect was when a huge pig suddenly appeared floating over the audience. It was pink and a little bigger than one of those short yellow school buses. There was graffiti all over it, some of which made it clear what some of Waters’ political positions are. The words “Impeach Bush” were emblazoned across the back end of the pig, and the words “What an asshole!” were painted on its ham with an arrow pointing to where the pigs asshole would be—except that the aforementioned word “Bush” was already there at the end of the arrow. After making a circuit around the amphitheater, the pig was released and floated up with a spotlight on it during the intermission until it disappeared from sight. I wondered what would happen when it would finally lose its helium and float back down, likely landing in the middle of the 5 freeway somewhere in Norwalk this morning.

All in all, last night is sure to stand out for many years as one of my favorite concert experiences. I love Pink Floyd music and it was performed with excellent musicianship. Waters included all of my favorite Pink Floyd songs in what turned out to be a long show (showing great stamina for a 63 year old man). The venue and weather cooperated to be wonderful hosts. The stage production was incomparable. The next time someone tells me, “when pigs fly,” I’ll remember that, hey, it could happen.

Universal Design

Universal Design refers to incorporating features into a home which make it more accessible to persons with disabilities while retaining its utility and aesthetic for able-bodied residents. Unfortunately, even though the concept is that Universal Design should be equally as homey for able-bodied residents as a dwelling with no Universal Design is, it’s still rare to find housing with such features. So when a major apartment management company incorporated Universal Design into one of their units expressly for me without charging me for it, I thought the company deserves commendation for it.

The most important Universal Design feature for me is the curbless shower. It makes an act that most people take for granted, bathing, so much easier for me when I can simply roll my wheelchair right into the shower stall. The challenge is to design a curbless shower which does not appear institutional and in which a bather is just as comfortable using it standing up. Fortunately, manufacturers are now meeting that challenge.

Curbless shower
Curbless shower

The management also removed the cabinetry from under the sinks in both the master bathroom and the kitchen so that I could get my knees under either of the sinks while seated in front of them in a wheelchair. Granted, an able-bodied resident would likely prefer cabinetry under the sink, with doors to obscure the underside of the sink. However, what makes this qualify as Universal Design is the fact that the cabinetry can easily be restored under the sink if all disabled residents were to later vacate the dwelling.

Another feature they incorporated into the kitchen is a roll-out pantry. Each shelf has rollers that allow them to be pulled out in front of where the closed doors would be. This makes the items in the pantry much easier to reach for someone seated in front of it. Regardless, able-bodied residents also find this Universal Design feature preferable to standard shelving.

There are some other Universal Design features which were not added specifically for me. They were actually added to all of the apartment units when they renovated the property where I live because they are widely desired as contemporary interior design. These are the levered door handles, the touch pad light switches, and the hardwood flooring. While the handles and switches are very helpful features for people with limited manual dexterity, they are nonetheless preferred by all tenants. The hardwood flooring is much easier to roll a wheelchair on than a carpeted floor, but the management added it to all of the units when they did the renovation because their market was demanding it.

In front of each of the doors, management built up a small concrete pad that gently slopes right up to the threshold. Blending in with the walkway leading up to the front door (or the patio out back), this inconspicuous modification makes the apartment easily accessible to smoothly rolling a wheelchair into without having to install a wood or aluminum ramp. However, this feature is also beneficial to people walking into the residence because there’s no chance of accidentally tripping over the sill of the doorway. It also makes it easier to dolly items like a refrigerator into the home.

Finally, the last accommodation that management made for me is the carpeting. In the rooms without hardwood flooring, the apartment had the carpeting typically found in rental units—light colored with a nap. This kind of carpeting is rapidly trashed by wheelchairs. First of all, the tires track dirt in much more so than shoes do, leaving stains that are very conspicuous on light colored carpeting. Secondly, they also rapidly matte down the nap in the most frequently trafficked areas, leaving wheel tracks in the carpeting. So management laid commercial carpeting like they use in the leasing office in my apartment. Its short nap doesn’t get matted and the dark, mottled coloring camouflages the dirt tracked in by the wheels. This accommodation might not qualify as Universal Design since able-bodied tenants would probably prefer the standard carpeting.

Nonetheless, it speaks to the socially responsible manner in which my apartment management company does business. While accommodating the special needs of a small cohort, they’re also using innovative Universal Design that benefits the entire population they serve. I give a tip of the hat to them.

The best defense is a good offense

The buzzword regarding Israel’s response to Hezbollah capturing two Israeli soldiers and launching artillery into Israel’s civilian population centers is “disproportionate.” The claim by not only the EU but also many in the media is that Israel’s retaliation against Hezbollah is disproportionate. However, although it’s an accurate claim, the idea that Israel’s response should be measured is simply not grounded in rationality.

Hezbollah is the aggressor in this situation, initiating an attack against Israel. Israel is simply defending itself. You will never hear a military strategist, whether he be an instructor in a military academy or a general in the battlefield, say to use minimal force when defending yourself against attack. To defend yourself from attack by being certain that the response is proportionate to the force of the attacker is a recipe for defeat. In fact, the recommended defense when the attacker is weaker than the defender is for the defender to respond with immediate and overwhelming force, thereby shutting down the aggression before the attacker has the opportunity to build up power or effect substantial damage.

For example, Mexico has a less powerful military than the USA (and this is obviously a hypothetical used only to make a point). However, if Mexico were to kidnap American soldiers then begin bombing the USA, no one would dispute that America’s response would be swift and furious, even though Mexico is weaker. If Mexico were to continue shelling the USA after the defense was mounted, there’s no question that the USA would continue defending itself without letting up. Furthermore, if Mexico did not release the American captives after being subject to a ferocious defense, the American people would certainly demand that the military give no quarter and take whatever means necessary to prevail against Mexico until the soldiers were released.

It’s easy to say Israel is being disproportionate when you’re not Israel. However, when you put yourself in Israel’s boots, their defensive response no longer seems unreasonable. Yes, Israel’s response is disproportionate but that’s the exact response that is warranted. After all, the best defense is a good offense.

Be afraid, be very afraid!

After bouncing from yellow to orange to yellow to orange to yellow countless times, Bush’s Homeland Security Advisory System on the threat level no longer terrorizes Americans as he intended it to do. As his primary tool for keeping Americans in line with his agenda, Bush constantly has to find new tactics to frighten America. His latest is to have foiled bomb plots “leaked” to the press.

Today’s story is about a disrupted plot by eight terrorists to blow up a commuter train tunnel connecting New Jersey and Manhattan. After painting this scary story as “what we believe was the real deal” by FBI assistant director Mark Mershon, he put America at ease by assuring us that US authorities had collaborated with foreign ones to break up the attack before it occurred. So just how well developed was the plan and how real was the danger?

Mershon conceded that the plot was in its preliminary stages. He said, “They were about to go to a phase where they would attempt to surveil targets, establish a regimen of attack and acquire the resources necessary to effectuate the attacks.” When you analyze the statement, you realize that means the terrorists had not even begun to even attempt surveillance of the tunnel. In fact, none of the suspects had ever even been to the United States. What Mershon really said was that the terrorists had not even formulated a systematic plan of attack or acquired the materiel and equipment needed to execute the non-existent plan. What the plot boiled down to was nothing more than some extremists brainstorming by email some outlandish ideas of how they might try to hurt America. Considering how much Bush has driven foreigners to hate America, this sort of thing must go on countless times every day around the world.

We found out more about this when New York City police commissioner Raymond Kelly was interviewed on the News Hour today. He validated the fact that the plot was nothing more than transmissions on the Internet and:

…was still very much in the planning phase. Nothing of an operational nature had gone forward. They had not obtained, again, to the best of our knowledge, the means to go forward with actually executing this plan.

This plot was just the second in a series. A couple of weeks ago, federal agents captured the “Miami Seven”—a group of homeless religious fundamentalists living in a warehouse. They were accused of plotting to bomb Chicago’s 110-story Sears Tower and wage other attacks inside the United States. However, like the plot broken up today, FBI deputy director John Pistole admitted it was “more aspirational than operational.” That’s quite the understatement. Anyone who watched CNN’s interview of member Brother Corey on television could see that this troupe is sadly lacking in the capability of fully rational thinking.

So be afraid, America, be very afraid! Thank Bush’s administration for their crack detective work to intercept these grave threats to our safety. As long as Bush keeps you terrorized, he holds on to the last shred of undeserved credibility in his arsenal.

There is no “I” in team

After watching as much of the first round of the World Cup 2006 as I could find the time to, I projected that we would see Germany and Brazil in the finals. Sure, it was the obvious and easy call but I did have some grounds.

The individual skill and technique on Brazil’s team is unmatched. I could call out Ronaldo and Ronaldinho as examples but only because the talent is so deep on the team that it would take too long to list everyone. Like their coach said, he had no subs, just solutions. After the first game, their playmaking between each other was beautiful…right up ’til their last game.

Germany had the twelfth man advantage. With guys like Klose who were consistently putting the ball in the net, it looked like they could score plenty to take the German team to the end. Plus, Germany’s defense was rock solid—the game against Poland had to be some of the best defensive play I’d ever seen. The team was gelling beautifully…right up ’til their last game.

So what went wrong with my projection? In a word: teamwork (or lack thereof). In both cases, Germany and Brazil were eliminated when their teamwork did not come together for ninety minutes. And it only takes one game for that to be your downfall once you get past the first round in the World Cup.

OK, I know that there are only two teams left but I haven’t watched all of the Portugal – France match yet. I’ll finish watching it from my DVR tomorrow after work, so don’t tell me who won. But let’s look at the last three teams.

The one thing that Italy, Portugal, and France all have in common in this tournament is that they have exhibited consistently solid teamwork in every game. They all have strong talent but they’re all fairly evenly matched. I doubt it will be any individual’s skill or one team’s overall talent that will win the Cup this year. I think it’ll be the teams who fail to meld that’ll be eliminated in the remaining games.

Gimme a break!

As a hard-working, middle-class, single renter with no children, I have not qualified for the bulk of the tax breaks that Bush has carved out for the rich these past few years. My tax burden is pretty much the same now as it was when Clinton was in office—actually, it’s probably higher because my income has gone up a bit since then. Those of you who have enjoyed the good fortune of tax cuts courtesy of president Bush, don’t make the mistake of thinking that they have in any way been distributed evenly among American taxpayers.

Now the Democrats are proposing some tax breaks. Again: I’m spurned! Senator Wyden and representative Blumenauer, both Democrats from Oregon, are introducing bills in their respective houses of congress which would give commuters who ride bikes to work between $40 and $100 per month in tax breaks.

I’ll be the first to say that it’s a good idea to ride a bike to work—especially in these days of skyrocketing gas prices. In fact, I used to ride my bike 150 to 200 miles a week just to stay fit. That’s less than the miles I commute every week for work. I love riding a bike!

However, now that I’m quadriplegic, it’s simply not feasible for me to ride a bike to work. Even if it were possible to fix a wheelchair lift to a tandem bicycle, I’m certain the federal government would not provide me with someone to pedal it for me. Of course, that last statement was silly but there’s a serious point behind it. The federal government must, by law, make all programs and services they provide equally accessible to citizens with disabilities. That includes tax breaks.

So here we are in times of record deficits and out-of-control government spending with the government trying to give Americans yet another tax break. Unfortunately, I would not get to participate in this one either. As long as the government is handing them out, I wish at least once they’d give me a tax break!

To be a worker and to be a criminal are not mutually exclusive

Last week, half a million people poured into the streets of LA carrying signs declaring “We’re workers, not criminals” to protest HR 4437.

HR 4437 is a bill being debated in Congress that, if passed, would “amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to strengthen enforcement of the immigration laws, to enhance border security, and for other purposes.” The bill would make it a felony for an immigrant to reside in the USA without the required documentation.

Nonetheless, the undocumented aliens carrying those signs were wrong. A person does not have to be a felon to be a criminal. Even if an illegal alien is only committing a misdemeanor, they’re still by definition a criminal.

Criminal activity should not be rewarded because it only encourages more illegal behavior. Furthermore, as long as there are American citizens going to bed hungry and living without access to healthcare, their taxpayer dollars should not be paid to support other people intentionally breaking the laws of this country.

Undocumented aliens should not be eligible for any government benefits paid for by taxpayer dollars like:

  • Medicare or Medi-Cal
  • housing subsidies
  • AFDC
  • Social Security
  • food stamps
  • welfare

If a child in public schools is not a US citizen or Resident Alien, a surcharge should be levied against the parents to fully cover the expense of educating them. An illegal alien should not be licensed by a state or the federal government to drive, be a contractor, practice healthcare, sell securities or real estate, or any other activity in this country formally sanctioned or regulated by a government entity. If all these restrictions were in place, it would staunch a great deal of illegal immigration. This is a land of limited resources, so our government is obligated to meet all the needs of its citizens first and has no obligation to serve foreign criminals.

Are many illegal immigrants hard working? Sure. Are many of them otherwise law abiding? Yes. Regardless, they could stay in their native countries and work hard and obey the laws there. As soon as they choose to illegally cross our borders, they have intentionally decided to conduct themselves as criminals and should be treated as such. The excuse that they suffer great hardships in their home countries is invalid. If a natural-born US citizen faced hard times and was in great need and chose to rob a bank to relieve his hardships, would you excuse that illegal act? Of course not. Why would we hold illegal immigrants to a lesser standard?

There are complications to dealing with undocumented aliens. Many of them have children that are US citizens, and those children have as much right to a public education as those born to US citizens. These children know nothing of life in their parents’ native country. Many of them are not totally fluent in their parents’ native language. Could you imagine the hardship these children—natural-born American citizens—would suffer trying to adjust to living in a foreign land if their parents were deported? This is but one example of the complexities of the problem.

There are no easy solutions to the problem of illegal immigration. HR 4437 might not be the solution and this post does not purport to have the right answer. Regardless, we cannot move closer to discovering the right solution until we acknowledge the truth that undocumented aliens are breaking the law. Perpetuating a fallacy like an illegal alien who works is not a criminal only serves to cloud our judgment when we address the problem.

On equating blogs to the news

Let’s get this straight: blogs do not publish news and bloggers are not journalists.

CNN has a couple of shows, On the Story and Reliable Sources, that are not news shows themselves. Instead, they report on the news and on journalists. In the process of doing so, they both feature a spot on blogs and bloggers, reporting on the news coming from blogs. However, this does a disservice to CNN, a respectable news network, and to journalists at large.

CNN is not alone in this. Many other mainstream news sources regularly refer to “news” from blogs. Some have even gone so far as to write TV news’ obituary because of the influence of blogs. It’s unclear why professional journalism participates in this self-destructive behavior but it’s time to set the record straight.

Blogs do not report the news. Blogs analyze it. When was the last time you read an original news story on a blog? It doesn’t happen. Instead, a respectable blog will cite other sources of news in its posts by hyperlinking to them and, if they’re worth their salt, the links will be to credible news sources.

It’s also important to realize that bloggers are not journalists. Most blogs post very biased analyses of the news. If you read a large number of posts in a given blog, you’ll likely find a conspicuous slant to either the left or the right (or some other specific ideology). Journalists, on the other hand, are expected to be relatively balanced. Furthermore, respectable journalists hold to a professional code of ethics in the process of gathering and reporting the news. This code is crucial to maintaining the integrity of the journalist’s publisher. Bloggers have no code of ethics to which they all adhere (which is not to say that none of them are ethical)—it’s still the “wild, wild west” in the blogosphere.

Even the law does not consider bloggers to be journalists. For example, the California Shield Law addresses the refusal to disclose news sources. However, when you read the following clause identifying all those covered by the law, you’ll see that it does not include bloggers:

A publisher, editor, reporter or other person connected with or employed upon a newspaper, magazine, or other periodical publication or by a press association or wire service, or any person who has been so connected or so employed…

That said (and not said), blogs do play a role in the news. The best journalists only provide information but do not give normative meaning to it. That’s left to the consumers of news who, more often than not in the case of mainstream Americans, are prone to putting insufficient effort to the task. Blogs provide those consumers easy access to analysis of the news of the day. Additionally, there are plenty of viewpoints from all points in the societal spectrum represented by blogs—all of which should be supported to ensure a balanced perspective on current events.

Another value of blogs is validating the credibility of the news. By linking to various sources (e.g. The Progressive Zone links to sources from The Washington Post to Aljazeera), blogs ground their analyses with news. The broad spectrum of news available on the World Wide Web permits the reader to extract the facts that are consistently cited by all blogs as the most reliable grounds on which to base the position the reader takes for his or her own. Because of the dynamic nature of the Web, blogs also rapidly direct readers to esoteric sources of news that they would otherwise overlook.

Regardless, the reader needs to be cautious of accepting everything they read in blogs as the “gospel” truth. There are plenty of blow-hard bloggers who spout their opinions without citing any sources. Furthermore, there are many bloggers who use conspiracy theorists and other incredible sources to ground their warrantless claims.

The next time you see a news publisher give credence to a blogger, take it with a grain of salt. And the next time you read a blog, don’t accept it as fact until you verify its grounds as fact through other credible sources. Most importantly, remember that blogs do not report news.

Van Morrison at The Wiltern

It was one of those nights where everything falls into place just right. The opposite of Murphy’s law: anything that could go right, did. A couple of times each decade I attend a concert the memory of which lasts forever. Last night was one of those nights.

I should’ve known it was going to be one of those nights when early in the day I tried to buy seats for UFC 59: Reality Check. Being the first time the UFC comes to California, it came as no surprise that it was sold out the first day the event went on sale. But I went to the Arrowhead Pond box office and asked if there was any wheelchair seating left. Sure enough, they sold me two tickets.

So I headed to Redondo Beach to pick up Anna. We went through Kenneth Hahn Regional Park to get to The Wiltern. Getting there as soon as the box office opened, I was hoping to be able to get a couple tickets to last night’s Van Morrison concert. It had been sold out for some time but they sometimes release a few held-back tickets the night of the show.

Normally it’s difficult to find parking in LA. However, there is plenty of parking by the theater … if you’re willing to pay $20 for it. But that’s not the way things went down for us on this night. Instead, I lucked out and found metered parking on the street right next to the theater. Of course, because I have handicapped tags, I could park there indefinitely without pumping any quarters in the meter. I flipped the homeless guy there a few bucks to keep an eye on my van, letting him know there was more where that came from when I would get back out to my secure vehicle after the show.

At the box office, I told David (yes, the guy at the window has the same name as I do) I needed wheelchair-accessible seating. Not only did he sell me two tickets but he sold them to me at the price of the nose-bleed tickets. However, the only wheelchair-accessible seats at The Wiltern are in the fifth row—just behind the pit!

Next, Anna and I headed down to El Cholo Cafe for dinner. Granted, those of us raised on homemade Mexican food know that El Cholo’s food is mediocre at best, but it’s good enough for a pre-concert dinner and it’s close to the theater. More importantly, their house margaritas (on the rocks) rawk! Made with real Cointreau and Cuervo 1800 tequila, they not only taste great but they also kick you on your ass. It turns out their tostada compuesta, with tasty homemade chorizo, is respectable too. More importantly, we headed to the show with a nice buzz on.

It was my first time at The Wiltern. We walked into a beautiful lobby with a crystal chandelier hanging in the middle. The floor manager, Arnold, met us. Knowing my special needs, he pointed out everything I needed to know about, then showed us to our seats. Yes, there were a few rows closer than us to the stage, but those in the orchestra pit had to look up at the stage. There in the front row of the main floor, we were at stage level and there were no better seats in the house. I turned around and looked back at the theater. It is spectacular in its classy, art deco glory!

Arnold sat a guy named Mike next to us. He’d not only been to The Wiltern before but he’d also seen Van Morrison live. They sat a good looking, young guy named Todd behind me. Anna was very pleased about that. Then we staked out a nice circumference where I could spin my wheelchair around and Anna could get up and dance. Once I staked that out, a couple of hot chicks showed up and sat down nearby, making me very pleased. The whole ambience of the people and the theater was so alluring that I looked behind me almost as much as I watched the stage.

Van Morrison started playing without an opening act. The sound reinforcement was top notch: the volume was loud, but not enough to make your ears ring, and the fidelity was excellent. Good thing, too, because Van Morrison’s band was so tight that it sounded like studio work. Van Morrison played sax and a beautiful guitar. There were at least a dozen other pieces on stage. He had a horn section (including a flugle horn), a percussionist along with the drums, a woman playing steel guitar, a grand piano and keyboards. Van Morrison was in great voice.

Yes, it was a fantastic night. I’ve been to other memorable concert events, but this one will rank up there as one of the best. And if an artist you’ve been wanting to see plays The Wiltern, do not miss the show!

New skis bode badly for Bode

What was Bode thinking? Yes, technology has been all the buzz leading into these XX Olympic Winter Games. The new technologies in equipment are supposed to lead to records falling all over the games. Recent history with technological advancement has borne out that it leads to unprecedented performance on the snow. Nonetheless, Bode Miller should have trusted his innate talent and skill on the hill.

Instead, he was seduced by the technology. A ski manufacturer brought Bode a brand new model of downhill skis that just came out of the plant for the first time a couple of days ago. Bode looked at them and was so impressed that he decided to use them for the Men’s Downhill race. Unfortunately, he made the decision on the morning of the race. He had not even used the skis for his training runs.

Bode skied well. His technique was solid. His run was almost flawless and the mistakes he did make were minor. But the skis just did not seem to run. Bode did not even end up in the medals. After the race, Bode admitted that he made a poor decision using the brand new skis.

The Men’s Downhill is Bode’s strongest event. However, he has four more events to go. Perhaps if he trusts in himself rather than putting his fate in the hands of technology, he might still take a medal home in 2006.